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UL Lafayette Students Address ‘Chair Affair’

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Chairs made of cardboard. Unheard of? Maybe. Impossible? No, just ask a group of UL Lafayette students who are finalists in a national design competition this month in Las Vegas.

“ Chair Affair” is the 2005 corrugated cardboard chair design competition sponsored by the American Institute of Architecture Students and the International Corrugated Packaging Foundation.

UL Lafayette industrial design students know it’s absolutely possible to construct real, working chairs out of cardboard. In fact, two chairs constructed by these students are two of six finalists in the competition and another is a merit award winner for innovation.

“I think this shows that the university produces excellent students who are excellent designers,”said Brian Powell, associate professor in the School of Architecture and Design. “Now, the world knows we have excellent designers.”

A group of students from Powell’s Human Factors course designed an interlocking, puzzle-like chair that will compete in the finals. Industrial design students Matthew Johnson and Jared Williamson and interior design student Lindsay Williamson combined forces to create a cardboard chair that converts to a daybed.

“ We wanted to come up with something that would be two different items,” said Johnson. “We thought about a chair with a seat that would come off and that’s when we got the puzzle idea.”

A sliding piece can either lie flat with another longer piece to form a daybed or it can be attached to form the sitting piece of the chair.

First-year industrial design student Sara O’Brien had something different in mind when she constructed her entry, which is also a finalist in the competition.

“ I was captured by the fluting part of cardboard,” said O’Brien. “I thought it would be fun to have that in a design and I liked the idea of weaving cardboard.”

That’s how she came up with her circular lightweight chair which uses interlocking pieces that were influenced by Japanese origami techniques. The chair, which is doughnut-shaped, weighs less than ten pounds.

Scott Shall, an assistant professor in the School of Architecture and Design, served as an advisor to O’Brien. “This university and these students are gems within this community,” said Shall. “The students have a passion for design and it’s just one of the things that I marvel at.”

Another industrial design student Josh Pichon received the Merit Award for Innovation for his “book chair” creation. It has several cardboard pages that can be moved to adjust seating height for a range of body sizes.

“ The idea came from when someone opens a book and turns a page and one side gets thicker and one gets thinner,” Pichon explained. “As a kid, I remember flipping pages of a book just for the fun it. I drew from that.”

The UL Lafayette entries were among the six final projects that were selected in the competition which was opened to all students of architecture and design in North America. On May 25, the top three projects and three honorable mentions will be announced during the 2005 American Institute of Architects National Convention and Design Exposition.

Winning students and their AIAS chapters will receive cash prizes totaling up to $3,675. The winning entries will be published in the Fall 2005 issue of Crit, the journal of the AIAS. First and second place winners will win a free trip to the Association of Independent Corrugated Converters Convention in Boston this fall.